Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker said eliminating state workers' right to collective bargaining would solve his budget crisis. In fact, Walker used the crisis as a pretext for union busting. Some Missouri Republicans have similarly dressed up their so-called Right to Work bill, SB 1, as a job creation scheme, but it's really a naked attack on the livelihoods of Missouri workers. It won't give anyone a job, and it has nothing to do with workers' rights.
Proponents of SB 1 claim it would outlaw "compulsory union membership." There is no such thing. No worker in the U.S. can be forced to join a union. It's illegal to do so. Under federal law when a majority of employees in a workplace vote for a union to represent them to bargain with their employer, the union and management may negotiate a provision requiring that those who benefit from the contract and receive representation from the union pay for the service. SB 1 would outlaw such an agreement and thus weaken unions and lower wages.
SB 1 backers say it's about putting Missourians back to work, but if we look at the latest state to enact such a proposal - Oklahoma, which adopted it in 2001 - it just isn't true. A study issued in March by the Economic Policy Institute found that since passage Oklahoma lost one quarter of its manufacturing jobs, and contrary to what advocates promised, the number of firms relocating to Oklahoma, which had been rising before 2001, began to fall after passage.
Right to Work backers think that it's necessary for a state to be union-free in order to grow jobs. That's code for being low wage. In the global economy, however, companies that want low wages have plenty of choices offshore in countries that pay less in a day than the U.S. minimum wage pays in an hour. Is the goal of Right to Work sponsors to turn Missouri into Mexico with its huge gap between rich and poor just to create jobs?
Indeed, Right to Work does lower wages for all workers, not just union workers. Another EPI study found that wages in states where the law was enacted are 3.2 percent less than in other states. An average full-time, full-year worker in Right to Work states makes about $1,500 less annually than a similar worker in other states and is less likely to receive health insurance and a pension.
In places where unions are strong, non-union workers also benefit because their employers are under pressure to raise wages and benefits to match their union competitors. When Right to Work laws undermine workers' ability to bargain for themselves through a union, wages and benefits end up falling for non-union workers too.
Since these laws lower wages and benefits without creating jobs, who benefits? Only corporate executives who want fatter profits by cutting employees' wages and right-wing ideologues who are willing to destroy the middle class in pursuit of their anti-union mania.
Missourians face a choice of what kind of state we want. Do we want a low wage economy with a low tax base, few state services, and depressed consumer spending, attracting employers who see us as a stopping-off place on the way to Mexico? Or do we want to invest in our infrastructure, including education and job training? Studies show these measures are why good employers choose to locate in a state. The backers of SB 1 have opted for the former. Tell them to stop offering deceptive non-solutions and start working to craft policies to create good jobs - the only basis for a prosperous economy.
Judy Ancel is the Director of the University of Missouri - Kansas City's Institute for Labor Studies. This article was originally published in the Kansas City Star and is reposted with permission from the author.